By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"I don't think the Coors boycott still has such a strong life," Cummings says, and draws a distinction between the Coors corporation and the private foundation that funds the right wing, saying, "It's not a seamless relationship."
"To fail to see the connection between one arm of the organization and another would be naive if it weren't so greedy," Kilhefner counters. Kilhefner's anger at the Center is exacerbated by the fact that 25 years ago he helped found it. Still, it isn't the only target of his ire. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's receipt of $100,000 last October from Coors also demonstrates, he says, "these groups cheapening themselves, turning their backs on gay and lesbian liberation." Kilhefner accuses GLAAD and the Center of being "bought by the highest corporate bidders without regard for the moral and political consequences of their acts or accountability" to the community.
Peter Cashman, an early founder of ACT UP/L.A., also sees a connection between the reliance of gay service organizations on donor funds and the reliance of gay politics on outside authority. "The corporatizing of the gay community is deplorable," he says, and attributes the problem in part to the "Clinton-as-savior syndrome" that pervaded the gay community, especially during Clinton's first term, when "People just sat back and thought our problems were over. We were naively misled by organizations like the Human Rights Campaign Fund and the Center, that Clinton had the power to do what he said. Of course, we have nothing for it. When Clinton leaves power, the average gay and lesbian person is no better off."
Cashman attributes much of gay disengagement during this crisis to the debacles of the gays-in-the-military and matrimony controversies, backed with great gusto by the national gay-movement machine but offering no single victory. The gay, lesbian and bisexual vote is declining rapidly, down to 4 percent of total voters in last year's election according to Voter News Service. Such figures make Cashman and others wonder at the state of gay mobilization. What ever happened to the fundamental task of organizing people locally, he asks, that was once done so well by groups like the Stonewall Democratic Club?
Cashman sees a role for both of the survival strategies adopted by the gay community: corporatization on one hand, grassroots activism on the other. They need not be seen as opposites, he says, but rather as complementary and fundamental parts of any mature political movement during the 21st century. But on the verge of that century, it is clear that the balance is tipping in gay activism. AIDS is no longer the filter through which gay life is regarded, simply because AIDS is no longer one of the 10 leading causes of death, dropping from eighth place in 1996 to 15th in 1997. And as the present danger recedes, the more fundamental issues of gay life beg to be addressed.
It is those more fundamental issues that, in the end, drive the debate about political apathy and corporate co-option. Underlying the Coors controversy and other recent contretemps, such as GLAAD spokesperson Chastity Bono's highly publicized statement that the TV show Ellen was "too gay," are matters of self-respect. The question has been asked: When gay leaders and organizations settle for payoffs instead of a transformational vision, is a systemic blindness to gay power and potential keeping them from taking care of their communities in some more profoundly healing and revolutionary way? Don Kilhefner has expressed his irritation with the Gay and Lesbian Center's failure to examine what he sees as an internalized homophobia, a symptom of which is a "desperate kind of drive to be accepted by people like Mayor Riordan or Clinton or anyone in a position of authority" at the expense of building a grassroots ethic and élan.
IT IS ON THIS LEVEL THAT THE MATTHEW Shepard tragedy takes on resonance: If his mistake in seeking intimacy with his enemies and getting into the truck with his attackers can be seen as a sort of fatal naiveté, what can be said of the efforts of gay activists to solicit mainstream acceptance, even to collude with hostile corporations? The issues that activists are arguing on the street reflect the deepest psychological concerns of gay men and women wishing to understand the meaning and potential of their identity and find a path to wholeness and true leadership. Wendell Jones contends that gay activism needs to also be what he calls a "psychology for the people. We are one of the only minorities raised by people who are not us and who teach us to hate ourselves," Jones said, "and that deeply embedded self-hatred holds us back from a liberationist vision unless we deal with it ongoingly." Without that continuing labor and vigilance, Kilhefner agrees, "gays will fail at realizing our true potential and contribution to society." The potential is formidable. Jones quotes Edward Carpenter, a 19th-century socialist who believed that the sufferings of gays were "destined in their turn to lead to another wide-reaching social organization and forward movement in the direction of art and human compassion." The battle that is brewing in Los Angeles over gay activism will ultimately demonstrate whether gay liberation, long in hibernation and without the crutch of a crisis or the seduction of cold, hard cash, can mean something revitalizing not just to gays but to society as a whole.